Why Facebook is the Future of Online Plagiarism

Facebook LogoI’ve been involved in battling online plagiarism for nearly 13 years now. The Internet has changed a great deal in that time, with new technologies, new fads, new means of expression and old ones that die out.

But no matter how much the Internet has changed, the plagiarists have, for the most part, stayed the same.

Online plagiarists, typically, gravitate to sites that offer three things:

  1. Easy to set up a presence
  2. Provide ready access to an audience
  3. Little, if any, expense

While these things are tempting to just about any potential webmaster, plagiarists typically put more emphasis on them than most. Though complete control over a site is appealing to many who want to make their mark online, the work involved in creating such a site and building an audience from scratch is less likely to interest someone who is already taking shortcuts.

This has meant, typically, plagiarists have followed the path of least resistance online. In the mid-late 90s plagiarists typically took to personal home page services. As forums and communities became more popular they were targeted by plagiarists due to their built-in audience and low threshold for participation. with the rise of blogging, that too became a target, especially with free blogging services.

Now though, plagiarists are increasingly turning to social media and bloggers are starting to feel the pinch. For example, a group of food bloggers recently banded together to battle what they call a “firestorm” of Facebook pages that lift their content, including recipes, descriptions and photos.

The problem is so drastic that they even created a group on Google+, named Protect Intellectual Property Online (PIPO), to swap information and deal with bad actors.

But why is this happening now? Facebook has been around since 2004 and has had over 500 million users since 2010. Typically, these types of changes happen much more quickly. Why did it take years for plagiarists to truly seize on Facebook?

The reason is fairly simple: Facebook has only recently become an acceptable replacement for a website, at least in some situations, making Facebook than just a place to talk with friends and turning it into a place to get noticed by the public.

The Public Side of Facebook

The truth is that plagiarism has always been an issue on Facebook. The problem is that, with so much of the content being posted behind Facebook’s walled garden, most content creators have been either unaware of the issue or largely ignored it.

In short, Facebook has traditionally been a place to interact with a relatively small group of friends, not the public at large. This has minimized both the opportunities to discover infringements and the impact of them.

However, Facebook Pages have started to change that. Though they’ve been around for years, they’ve traditionally been marketing tools, added on to existing sites. Infringing material on them probably came from the site it is associated with.

However, for at least four years now, there have been significant debates about whether or not having a full site is necessary. Though some believe it isn’t, most agree that, if you want a professional online presence, you need to have a standalone site.

Still, for those who don’t care about having the most professional presence possible, Facebook Pages are very appealing. They’re free, quick to set up and come with a built-in audience to build from, namely one’s existing friends.

In short, someone considering starting up a Tumblr, a blog or joining an online forum might find a lot of appeal in a Facebook page instead.

This appeal is only going to grow if Facebook Pages become more acceptable as a primary Internet presence. That will draw more and more people to create them, including both legitimate users and plagiarists.

The Good News and Bad News

The good news in all of this is that Facebook is a large, established company that, for the most part, has been a good actor in dealing with copyright infringement. The company has a solid DMCA policy and works to remove infringing material quickly in my experience.

Facebook isn’t a small start up that’s quickly gained popularity and will be overrun if the copyright notices come pouring in. They have the resources to handle the problem.

The bad news though is that Facebook is a domain with a great deal of trust and any plagiarized images or text that appear will largely trusted by Google and other search engines. Any public Facebook page with plagiarism that’s indexed could spell trouble down the road.

This is why it’s important for webmasters to keep an eye on this trend and be aware of it. While it’s still too early to tell exactly how big of an problem it’s going to be, Facebook pages are definitely going to be a growing concern in regards to plagiarism and one with the capability of doing a lot of damage to legitimate sites.

Bottom Line

To be clear, Facebook hasn’t changed and the features that are being used have been around for years. However, attitudes about Facebook Pages are beginning to change and that is sending more would-be webmasters to set up such pages, rather than just creating a site elsewhere.

Unfortunately, some of those webmasters are going to eschew using the “share” button or simply posting links in favor of simply copying content and reposting images. Some of this is due to a lack of understanding about ethical sharing on Facebook, but a lot of it comes down to people just wanting to build their presence off the work of others while giving nothing back.

It’s a trend to watch out for and not just for food bloggers. Any niche that attracts amateur webmasters will likely see a growth in this direction.

So while the next competitor for your financial services firm, most likely, won’t be creating a Facebook Page instead of a site, the next site on RC cars, geocaching or electronics repair may very well be. Whether it’s original or a plagiarism.

3 comments
Cindy S
Cindy S

Agree with Mark Tisdale. The amount of time it takes to find and remove infringements of artwork and photos is a drain on the real owner. Though the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a great tool for copyright owners, and provides protection for site hosts that comply with it, it still represents time and effort that should be put into producing more art, being with our families, etc. Not dealing one by one with infringers, on sites that clearly do not kick off repeat violators. They are supposed to kick them off.

Facebook is notorious for having whole pages set up for the purpose of driving traffic to commercial sites, by using other people's stuff without permission, and of course without paying for the use.

It does not matter where they found it. Most images are copyrighted, not the other way around. There are myths about public domain that many people believe, but once you've had a takedown notice you have been educated, and yet these sites go on and on, repeating the same infringing activity, willfully. They SHOULD be shut down. In fact by law sites are required to have and enforce a repeat infringer policy. Site hosts are protected from liability if they comply. When they do not, they too should pay the price along with the infringing members they allow to keep doing it.

Mark Tisdale
Mark Tisdale

Have seen multiple examples of pages on Facebook sharing visual art/photography with zero attribution to the owner never-mind permission. And they frequently like to claim in their about section that they are operating under "educational fair use" - never mind the commentary offered with any of the images they share tends to be terse and self-serving. They are masters though at the game. These pages have tens of thousands of followers because they are constantly sharing something new (i.e. stolen), and they know how to game Facebook's algorithms to remain in the news feed. These pages are not hard to find, type the words amazing or beautiful into the search bar on Facebook and you'll surface tons of high-follower pages that have used those words to describe what they are sharing.

What's been more interesting to observe is that these pages have started monetizing their theft. Share tons of stolen images, gain tens of thousands if not millions of followers and then start slipping in occasional links to Amazon Affiliate sales and now you have a recipe for a moneymaking venture.

And I agree that Facebook is excellent on responding to DMCA but there needs to be a proactive way to handle pages like this. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that a page with tons of followers that is sharing images they admit are not their own is in breech of someone's copyright. It shouldn't require each individual visual artist to contact Facebook to bring those pages down.

Adam
Adam

I see a lot of Facebook pages used as primary pages in certain industries and have for some time now. There's quite a bit of recycled content in them as well...YouTube videos, graphics that several sites use, etc.

However, a lot of what I've seen seems to be in the public domain and, in the case of YouTube videos, is shared in such a way as to link back to the publisher. As a result, it's not plagiarism, which is going to make a lot of acts of plagiarism harder to detect as a result.